Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Mr. Mitchell's Neighborhood
Allow me to show you around the place. Before we leave, let me make sure the two gas levers feeding the stove and the often malfunctioning hot water heater are turned off. Can't forget my keys. If I'm locked out, no manager's office to call and we wouldn't understand each other if I could.
Wait 5 minutes for the elevator. If the overhead hall lights go out, just move around and clap and stomp. They're on some kind of movement/noise sensor control, probably imported from Uzbekistan in 1998 or else they are what's left of a science experiment by the fat, nerdy middle school kid who lives four doors down.
Down we go....Floor. By. Floor. By. Floor. By. Floor. By. F.l.o.o.r. Frequent stops, especially at the 8th (housekeeping business); 3rd (mystery floor, home of the "young girls in jeans, tennis shoes, dwarfed by their oversized white lab coats imprinted with blue quasi-scientific lab looking logos") and 2nd floor (expensive restaurant).
First floor. Watch yourself and don't get crushed by the horde trying to get in as we're exiting.
There's the callow youth of a security guard snoozing into his newspaper in an oversized uniform and hat that looks like it was last used in an amateur Red Army production of "Pirates of Penzance".
Outside let's turn left. Wave to my cheerful laundry lady. She's stout, usually beaming and has what appears to be a goiter on her forehead. She's only "lost" one pair of jeans, two pairs of socks and several boxer shorts in the four loads she's done for me so far. It's still a bargain.
There are the five elegant and comfortable wooden park benches set along on the sidewalk facing a real estate office, a florist and a small convenience store where I usually buy my cigs. Older folks favor them in the evenings, sitting for hours, men and women chatting, gossiping and sometimes laughing as they watch the pedestrians come and go.
Look to your right, across the street. Hear that loudspeaker and martial music? The middle school must be having another assembly on the soccer field. See that slender woman gently swaying in the small doorway directly across from us? That's the massage parlor and she's one of their living ads.
But let's keep walking.
Be careful when navigating through the "Children of the Corn." It's a collection of anywhere from 3 to 7 small kids - who presumably should be in school - under the supervision of skinny crone of a Corn Mother who spend their days and evenings squatting on the sidewalk, husking and hawking corn. It's good stuff, sweet, small by American standards but inexpensive - about 10 cents for 8-10 ears.
Want to duck into the covered outdoor market? Gotta fight our way through the Bootleg DVD Gang Boys first.
No, no, I don't want "Gidget on the Island of the Ghost Cannibal Gods" or even a copy of Sean Penn in "Mystic River" which hasn't been released yet in the States. You'd think by now they'd know I'm not a good prospect. Don't have a player yet.
Otherwise I'd probably be a faithful customer.
I don't buy my meat or fish here. But it's colorful and, yes, smelly. Tons of mystery creatures, living and dead. An ictheologist's wet dream! I saw some shark fins the other day. Squid is popular.
I avoid the poultry and rabbit sections now. I feel too sorry for the chickens jammed beak to beak in the small cages, though some of them sport exotic, long, colorful plumage. The poor rabbits look equally miserable on their death row.
But I've picked up some kitchenware here and the fruit is good. Particularly the apples, grapes and plums. California plums being sold, too, as if they were picked yesterday but for the little paper stickers on them; just like Safeway or King Soopers but cheaper.
Let's go back outside. We're almost off the block. There are the shoe repair families. Five or six lined side by side on the walkway, complete with their cobbling equipment, glue, nails, leather and battery operated sewing machines.
There's the upscale seafood restaurant and the western style coffee shop, neither of which I have checked out yet. A cup of coffee here is more expensive than Starbucks in the states. There is one Starbucks in Shenzhen. I've been there but only to meet someone. Otherwise it was filled with wealthy, young, very glossy Chinese men and women sipping $6-$7 javas and working their cell phones.
Let's go right and cross the street.
Watch yourself! Yeah, it's a zebra crossing but the concept of pedestrian right-of-way is completely alien here. See how that Mercedes almost mowed down the gaggle of tiny school kids? Leper-sucking rat bastard. That stuff happens virtually every minute here.
Nice shade trees, huh? The city is gritty and muggy, and the sidewalks and streets often look like they've been paved and repaired by epileptic chimps randomly flinging wet cement and oatmeal, but Shenzhen loves its trees and they are everywhere the pavement permits.
More shops on our left. This place sells fabulous fresh dumplings - pork, shrimp, sweet bean - but I've only seen them for sale in the morning. There's Grape Man - he's got the best Concord grapes I've ever had, though I suspect, like the plums, they're from California - most Chinese produce isn't that large and these are like small ping-pong balls.
Barber shop, barber shop, barber shop. These are the real barber shops, not the ones with the red and white poles, attractive women, but no hair cutting or styling equipment inside. If you're not careful, they'll clip you in other ways, though.
We're almost to the combo supermarket/liquor store/department store. Hang a left. Yup, there's a KFC, too. Expensive, like Starbucks, but the Colonel is quite popular here even if the chicken portions are miniscule and breast portions nearly nonexistent unless one raises a serious fuss.
There's a mini-park across from the department store. Occasionally you'll see older people doing tai chi in the small grassy areas near the winding path and benches.
And it looks like there's a beer promotion going on in the park pavilion. Kingway beer, Shenzhen's local brew. It's not bad and the price is right - about 30 cents a bottle.
Let's grab a couple before we go back.
Note: I'm off to Chengdu on Wednesday evening and will probably be gone for four to five days, depending on what I encounter there. I'll be posting if time and circumstances permit.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Communication breakdown.
Sunday I'd just finished downing a lunch of potstickers and Concord grapes and was preparing to take a stroll to the nearby park when there was a loud knocking on my metal gate door . There was the real estate agent who'd "found" the apartment for me.
He seemed frantic and smiling at the same time.
"Mr. Tan say you work now! You go work now!"
My phone still isn't hooked up so apparently Mr. Tan had sent the nearest English speaking lackey to roust me. I'm not scheduled to work Sundays, but hurried back to find a boatload of fresh stories in my editing cue and no Mr. Tan in sight.
I dutifully began "polishing" when he strolled in about 50 minutes later, fresh from lunch.
"Uh...Mr. Tan. It would really help if you'd tell me ahead of time if you want me to work on a day off. You were lucky I was there."
He sucked on his teeth with an intake of breath, something I've discovered some Chinese do when confronted with a "difficult" question, statement or revelation. Others giggle nervously or laugh outright.
"Yes. Yes. I forgot. Because of the upcoming holidays I have been very busy. I am sorry."
At least he apologized. I didn't ask him about overtime. Maybe tomorrow. I can only take so much tooth sucking and he can only take so many inconvienent questions.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

I don't think the Dali Lama did it this way.
Friday night, foreign devil coworker Jeff took me and another coworker, a reporter whose English name is Linda, and his newly purchased Fender Stratocaster to a Tibetan bar managed by his longtime Tibetan girlfriend.
Jeff was both serving as host and entertainer. He and Linda - who has an achingly pure voice reminiscent of Joan Baez - had worked out arrangements of two songs: "500 Miles"and "Blowing in the Wind." Before he got into journalism in Australia, he was a musician and at one point says he backed up a then-unknown 17-year-old Oliva Newton John.
He has big plans for Linda and himself with an idea of eventually forming a jazz duo and molding her into a sort of Chinese Norah Jones.
Linda blows hot and cold on the idea. She sang semi-professionally in college but didn't like the grind and didn't make enough money.
After a 40 minute bus ride and a scolding by Linda to Jeff that he could've taken a different bus we wound up at the bar, which I never would have found on my own. There's no evidence of it from the street and one has to walk through the lobby of an optical shop and go up three flights of stairs to enter it.
Inside it's done up as sort of a quasi Tibetan monastary with Tibetan tapestries and banners covering the walls, a row of prayer wheels along one wall, a painted cattle skull or three hanging on posts, mandela symblos, an enormous photo of a Tibetan landscape and a small TV screen hanging from another wall showing grainy, continuous clips of an idealized Tibet.
The tables - which were mostly full of Chinese and Tibetan revelers - face a large open floor area where the staff performs a Tibetan revue/floor show of sorts. If you walk through another door next to the restrooms you're immediately in another, much smaller bar owned by the same group. The "B-52 Hip-Hop Club" which was nearly empty and playing not hip-hop or even the B-52s, but an ear splitting version of "My Heart Will Go On" (omnipresent in China) when I took a short look.
The evening began with the staff, in traditional costumes, going from table to table singing a Tibetan greeting song during which they placed long shiny, white, fringed rayon scarves around customers' necks. The song was punctuated with brief pauses during which the customers are supposed to take a healthy swig of beer, downing the glass by the time ends.
We began with Chinese beer and switched to Tibetan beer after the barbecued yak meat, spicy duckheads on a stick (eyes and beaks removed) and French fries with ketchup were served. Not exactly happy hour fare at Bennigans. The yak meat was tender and tasty, milder than beef. Duck heads were so bony as to have little worth eating - one just sort of crunches the tiny skulls and sucks up what herbs, spices and little protein one can.
"Uh, the French fries aren't typical Tibetan fare, right?" I asked Jeff.
"Right, mate. Good call."
Tibetan beer isn't like...uh...well, let's say it's not exactly Miller Lite. It's thick, milky colored, made from wheat, served at room temperature and tastes sweet and does a number on your frontal lobe.
The floor show began at 9 pm and featured six performers: four men - one sporting the only mullet I've seen in China - dressed in red baggy cossack style trousers, black boots and red tunics and two women in high necked yellow blouses, floor length bright yellow skirts accented with vertical blue, purple, red, and white stripes on the hems. Their waists were wrapped with similarly colored fabric belts.
The sleeves for all six were about 5 feet long, but wrapped up before the dancing began and unfurled and serving as streamers as they danced to shatteringly loud recorded synth-pop versions of what I presumed were "typical" Tibetan folk tunes.
The dances were interspersed with various solo songs and it was then that the purpose of our new scarves became apparent.
Unlike Elvis who tossed his sweaty scarves to his audience, our scarves were used by the audience to show appreciation for the performers. As the beer flowed, audience members increasingly went up to select singers or dancers and draped a scarf over the performer's neck, then bowed briefly with hands in a prayer position to indicate "you rock, dude!"
Some, particularly mullet man and an especially fetching young Tibetan woman were so swathed in scarves after particular numbers that their heads could barely be seen among the mounds of slick white fabric. Scarves were then taken backstage and brought back out and redistributed to the audience for more appreciation recycling.
After the main event, which lasted about 2 and a half hours, the audience was urged onto the floor to join the cast for a frantic, fast-paced group dance that was combination of a Tibetan hokey-pokey, conga line and crack the whip.
Kareoke followed and finally Jeff and Linda got their turn to play to what was by then an almost empty house.
Jeff had consumed a fair amount of Tibetan beer by then and as what passed for a sound check started, he suddenly began throwing a hissy fit because he couldn't hear himself play. He has no amp and the house system has no monitor.
"I'm bloody not going to go on!" he yelled as Linda and I and a friend of hers implored him to think of his public.
It was unreal. We weren't talking about Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden.
This was two simple songs for an audience of maybe 14 drunk Tibetan and Chinese middle aged men who wouldn't know "Blowing in the Wind" from "Gone with the Wind."
Jeff's diva act finally abated and he eventually plugged in and he and Linda pulled it off.
As she soared through Dylan's classic, I wondered what Bob would think if he knew he was being celebrated in a Tibetan bar in Shenzhen, China at that moment.
I like to think he'd smile.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Too much time on my hands.
A major Chinese vacation looms. National Day on October 1 seems to be a combination of our July 4 and Labor Day weekend, but it's also a week long holiday that only begins on Oct. 1 and is known as "Golden Week." It's a time when Chinese go visit their families, take local vacations and celebrate "modern" China's founding.
The paper - which has been packed with pre-holiday stories about domestic tourism and myraid events (mostly in other cities) celebrating Golden Week, including a "Papaya Festival" - will not publish during the week which defies every sense of basic journalism I've ever known. But as foreign devil coworker Jeff says frequently, "TIC" (short for "This is China").
I'm kind of dreading the stretch, though we will be paid for it. I haven't made enough connections yet to guarantee companionship for any of that time and still haven't figured my way around Shenzhen well enough to think of things to do during the day. Maybe I'll just pick a bus at random, ride it and see where I wind up.
Money is a little tight at the moment, too. I do have an invitation to fly to another city, Chengdu, to meet a Chinese e-mail/pen pal I've corresponded with for a few months but the cost and the prospect of trying to navigate through Chinese airports and flights is somewhat daunting. Still, I may make the plunge.
Meanwhile, that Papaya Festival is looking better all the time.
Office politics.
Went to lunch with two co-workers - female section editors - who treated me to a great spread of pork and celery dumplings, a heavy soup/stew of noodles, beef and vegetables - asparagus was the only one I recognized - and some chive stuffed flat bread, barley soup, and green tea.
Turns out they not only have to sell ads, they must also sell subscriptions - 80 in three months. One begged to know if I had any friends here yet who might want to buy one. I told them that with the exception, perhaps, of the Podunk Weekly in someplace like Rat's Breath, Ark., those duties are all handled by separate departments at US papers. (And that I felt damn lucky not to be employed here under those conditions).
On the way back in the elevator up, a man asked them who I was. They told him and then mentioned I'd worked at the Rocky Mountain News.
He immediately broke into a huge grin and switched to fluent English and started rattling off all sorts of info about the Rocky. "It's a tabloid, Colorado's oldest newspaper and now in a JOA (joint operating agreement) with the Denver Post because it lost so much money during a circulation war with the Denver Post. It also has several Pulitzer prizes for photography, right?"
He'd never been to Denver and, as it turns out, he probably never will be. After he got off on a floor below the SZ Daily, my co-workers told me he had once been the editor of a major Chinese language paper here but had made a "very bad political mistake" (unspecified) and has been banished to a dead end admin. job in the publishing group as a result.
"It is too bad," said one. "He is a good man and was a very fine journalist."

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Tuesday Morning Football. I'm jonesing with no regular access to football coverage. Or "American football" as the Chinese call it; "football" is, of course, their term for soccer - a banal, dull pretender of a sport. But I figured out a way to "watch" the Broncos crush the hated Raiders on Monday Night Football during my Tuesday morning at work. I found a site that posted updates and between editing duties I clicked to it and read with glee and amazement as the score mounted and Jake Plummer set a new Bronco QB rushing record.
One coworker sort of caught on to what I was doing but was completely baffled as to why I would care. Football is incomprehensible to most in the PRC and I may as well have been obsessively noting the results of a Venutian molten hydrogen bowling tournament. He does follow the NBA, though, and is informed enough to know that the Nuggets have sucked diseased goats for a long time.
At the final (31-10) I did pump my fist once and hissed "YESSS! Fuck you Al Davis!" but there was no one to share my joy. But I imagined I felt the vibes all the way from Colorado.
I was enlisted late in the afternoon to do a dog and pony show to promote the paper as an English language learning tool to Chinese middle school children. Unlike most US papers there is no separation between the advertising, promotional/circulation efforts and news side. Page editors are even expected to sell a quota of ads per year. Fortunately, me and my Aussie coworker Jeff are exempt from the ad sales duties.
Two page editors and I were driven in a company SUV to what was described to me as the "best, the top middle school in Shenzhen." It was in an older part of the city but, except for the fact that the power was out when we arrived, the school itself was physically impressive and modern seeming and the students swarmed me like I was some kind of celebrity when we arrived. Many wanted to try out their conversational skills and our presentation was delayed while I slowly and politely worked my way out of the chattering throng of 12-13-14 year olds.
I gave an impromptu and ingratiating pep talk extolling the virtues of newspapers in general and the Shenzhen Daily in particular and then opened the floor for questions. It was a startling mix.
A selection:
"Have you been to France?" (Yes, as a child)
"What do you think of the US war in Iraq" (Personally I am against it. I did not vote for George W. Bush. - I restrained myself from any invectives, though)
"Do you love your motherland?" (Yes)
"Do you like David Beckham?" (He's no Jake Plummer or John Elway, but sure, I adore him. Doesn't everyone?)
"What is your e-mail?" (average_guy26@yahoo.com)
Which brings me to a suggestion from a reader. It is my e-mail. If anyone following this blog wants to e-mail me with comments, suggestions, questions I'd love to hear from you.

31 channels and nothing on. I'm watching more daily TV here than I did in the states, but it's mostly due to boredom and the lack of any Internet or phone access in my apartment. One and half of the 31 channels I get are in English and occasionally Japanese and Korean (for some hour long programs). It's a seemingly random mix, although I can count on watching Peter Jennings ABC night newscast live at 7:30 every morning. Beyond that it's cartoons, (no Simpsons or King of the Hill, alas) such as '60s era Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Inspector Gadget; achingly slow and dry Brit science shows on subjects such as sand; soccer matches; the occasional bad movie ("Dante's Peak") and lots of Hong Kong business news.
I realized it was really bad when I switched from one channel's documentary on the history of cobblestones to another that was broadcasting a Korean sitcom. I understand more Korean (a little) than I do Chinese (none), and so was able to follow that with more interest than anything else being broadcast at the time.
Returning to my apartment over the noon hour to devour a boxed Chinese lunch from the nearby 7-Eleven, I found two notices had been dropped through the door of my "lucky number" abode. One was an official looking form with a large sum neatly printed on it. The other was a card with a nude woman on either side, Chinese script and a phone number. Turns out the official form was a notice that my power was to be shut off for nonpayment. Since I'd been there about 5 days, it was obviously a mistake, and a coworker made a call to try to rectify the situation.
I didn't ask him what the card meant. Some messages are universal, but I don't think my married-with-children neighbors on either side got one.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Saturday in the park. Saturday morning brought some new revelations. The AC is constantly dripping again, ensuring that my sleep Friday night was tormented by the drop-drop-drop, dribble-dribble-dribble, small gush, drop-drop-drop, etc. of Chinese water torture and having to get up several times to make sure the container I've set up wasn't overflowing.
But I got some exercise and discovered a small, lush, green world in a nearby park that my former student Linda's mother took me to on a "mountain hike." Linda and she showed up at about 9 a.m. When they had invited me previously, I assumed we would be taking a bus outside the city to one of the many large foothills that one can occasionally see through the smog and haze from the 37th floor of the newsroom in the mighty Shenzhen Press Group building.
Turns out the "mountain" is really a large hill in a sprawling park ("Lotus Hill") and only a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Imagine a small Central Park with palm trees and other foliage - lots of mysterious twisting trees dripping with moss and adorned with large waxy leaves - and a lake, a tea house, and paved trails that turn into a series of thigh-quaking steep steps up the hill.
I was dying. While Linda's mom, who does not smoke and jogs regularly and Linda who is a healthy, trim taekwondo student were kicking my ass and kindly pausing for me as we wound up the steps. The heat didn't help. It is still brutally hot and humid here, though slightly less so than in July and August, when I was last here. My shorts were so soaked with sweat that it looked as though I had wet my pants by the time we arrived at the top of "mountain."
What greeted us was an enormous bronze statue of the late Chinese Premier Deng Xiaopeng striding vigorously foreward, overcoat flapping and one arm outstretched, presumably leading the eager Masses to a future of Capitalism with a Communist Face. At the statue's base were what I assumed were requiste floral tribute wreaths and a couple of bored Chinese MPs in white helmets watching the throngs who were hanging out on benches and milling about soaking in the hazy vista of the city below.
The downward journey was a little more relaxing and we took a different winding route that had us on paths and stairs paved with large, polished rocks and granite tiles.
As we went down to the paths on a paved road that leads up the mountain we paused to watch two elderly men, stripped to the waist, in shorts. They held 3-foot plastic rods with water bottles jammed on the ends. The bottles were stuffed with large sponges and filled with water. The sponges protruded from the cut-out ends of the bottles and were being used as oversized pens, with the water serving as "ink."
The men were standing and patiently, gently and repeatedly tracing the same Chinese character on the road. You could see rows of it fresh and then fading for about 8 feet behind them as the water dried. Fragments of the character evaporating in the heat.
After each slow stroke they would pause to evaluate their ongoing work.
"What are they doing?' I asked Linda's mother.
"It is exercise," she said. She couldn't explain further.
"What does it say?" I asked.
"It is the character for 'young boy,'"she replied.
Old men commenting on youth fading fast, like the water strokes fading on the road?
I'll never know. But I'll never forget it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Suffice to say this is like no newsroom I've ever worked in. It physically resembles one with the reporters and editors in various pods, stacks of old issues scattered and stacked about and the lingering smell of newsprint - which I do love.
But the reporters rarely leave the office and spend a lot of time translating articles from other sources, including Chinese wire services, newspapers, the Internet, and the odd 1970s-era Encyclopedia Brittanica, from Chinese into their version of English. Phone interviews are also common. Two or three of the top editors routinely sack out on leather couches with their shoes off for naps after lunch. Privilige of postion, I guess.
There is only one other copy editor, an Aussie named Jeff - who looks as if he has been living and drinking gin here since 1946, but is a friendly, helpful and intelligent soul - and he arrives at about 2 p.m. I work the day shift, basically 9 til 6 or so. Like in the US, copy arrives unpredictably and in clumps, often large, tangled ones. Unlike in the states we work many desks apart, so there is no "copy desk" per say.
Jeff warned me that changes I would make in stories would be challenged by the reporters brandishing dictionaries. It was prophetic. Indeed, about 30 minutes after he warned me, a business reporter came to me with a well-thumbed Chinese-English dictionary, and was upset because I had made a change in his story that involved me substitutiing the term "outstanding debts" for a tortured term of his that read something like "money funds that are owed by the debtors to bank from which it loaned them previously". His understanding of "outstanding" as he thrust the dictionary at me and pointed to the word was the way it which it is used to describe something remarkable or special or worthy of acclaim.
I assured him that "outstanding debts" was a perfectly acceptable and he grudgingly accepted my expertise. Jeff had a similar problem recently with the term "British" which was used alone in a headline instead of the correct "Englishman" or "British citizen.". The dictionary cited by the reporter who wrote the headline was written by a Chinese man and published in 1948.
According to the in-house lexicon, Jeff and I don't "edit" stories. We "polish" them. I did receive a nice compliment this morning from a reporter who said, "You give my story good polish. Thank you. You are a better polisher than your predecessor."

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

House rent blues. Got into my "lucky number" apartment last night after an elaborate and expensive ritual. Had to shell out two months rent in advance, as well as the first month's rent to the bldg. owner. An additional half months rent went to the real estate agent who "found" it for me and the paper. Oddly, one bargains for the penality fee if the lease is broken. The owner wanted a full month's rent. I offered half and we settled on slightly more than half. Repairs were made, but the door knob on the second door into the apartment fell off in my hand as they were leaving. It was repaired shortly thereafter.
Did I mention that to turn on the hot water in the shower, you have to get the supply flowing from a device in the kitchen?
The matter of paying utilities and rent is a bit more complex than in the states. I have to set up two accounts in two different designated banks. One bank for utilities and one bank for the rent, from which the amounts will be withdrawn.
Phone service, which will not include long distance, is due to be installed in "17 days." I'll believe it when it happens. The cable TV works, though it's fuzzy. I was able to get an English language channel that showed a "Bridezilla" episode and then a faux Discovery Channel piece on the moons in our solar system.
I went out shopping for supplies after the rent closing ceremonies (during which I told the owner and agent that in the US it was customary for the apartment owner and real estate agent to buy ceremonial beers for the renter; they honored the "tradition." Heh)
Slept fitfully and arose early to find the hot water heater not working again and the air conditioning now dripping water all over the floor and a small sofa. Mopped up the mess, turned it off and will have to ask Mr. Tan to call the owner to get it repaired. Probably in "17" days. He's getting a little tired of being my babysitter and I'm getting a little frustrated at having to rely on him so much. I need to begin learning a basic vocabulary. He suggested at the closing that I find a "Chinese girlfriend" to pick up the duties. Not that I haven't thought of it...

Monday, September 15, 2003

Crisis averted for now. After keeping me hanging in my hotel as the clock ticked away towards check-out, I was finally summoned to the Shenzhen Daily for a confab. After lengthy back and forth negotiations complicated by their bafflement at my explanation of US hiring standards and my disappointment in their lack of faith in me, they agreed to employ me. At least until the results of my blood tests come back. I'm clean that way, I assume. But assuming anything here has already proven me wrong several times.
I began work late in the morning and am still trying to master the Chinese PC and the paper's editing system. It seems pretty basic, but with the file screens and story slugs all in Chinese, it's a bit confusing to say the least. The staff is quite small and outwardly friendly. Very relaxed for the most part. The man a friend of mine in the states has dubbed "the evil Mr. Tan" sacked out on a leather couch in the office with his shoes off and a blanket wrapped around him for about an hour. Gotta get the rest after scaring the bejeezus outta me.
I've edited about eight stories including a fractured Chinglish dissing of the latest Michael Bolton CD which I rewrote heavily. Syntax was mangled but the spirit was good. Glad to see a few mind sets are similar.
All bets are off. Posting the evening of the same day. I may be the shortest lived employee in the Shenzhen Daily's history. I was given the news obliquely by Mr. Tan who informed me that my blood pressure and a heart condition (for which I take medication) may disqualify me for the sendentary position of copy editor. The concept of the Americans with Disabilities Act is, of course, foreign here. No one has to pass a physical to work at a publication in the U.S. but it's a different world here. My meeting to sign the contract for the apt. has been postponed. Mr. Tan and two senior editors are conferring this evening and all I've been told is that I should await a call in the a.m. It's all very discouraging. I was counting a lot on this change and to see it crash and burn before it begins is more discouraging than anything I've felt in quite awhile. The prospect of returning to the states to the same old state of mind and marginal employment is not a pleasant one.
Faithful readers may recall one of my summer students, Linda. Her father died three years ago and during the camp she had asked me to be her "new father" and we later settled on "godfather." We had exchanged some emails and Sunday I met her, her mother and - surprise - her stepfather. She had never mentioned having one. He is an industrial designer and college prof who has the slightly long haired, tousled look of someone Central Casting might decide to send over to play the part of a hip Chinese artist. He is also obviously dotes on Linda, which I was glad to see. They took me to lunch where the menu descriptions included the likes of: "The greasepaint will be plentiful" and "The ordinary soup is redone with routine."
Linda's mother was also kind enough to take me to a local dept. store so I could find some sheets and a blanket for my future bed.
Unlike US dept. stores, where clerks are as scarce as good taste in Vegas, there is an overabundance of help here. One does not simply pick out merchancdise and pay for it. One clerk "helps" you select the product. A second one writes an invoice. You take the invoice to a separate counter where a third clerk takes your money and stamps the invoice. You return to the original destinaion where a fourth clerk hands you the purchase after scrutinizing the invoice. In my case, a fifth clerk was needed to clear the aisles of curious shoppers entranced and amused with the sight of a long nosed, hairy legged barbarian choosing bed linens.
Monday morning was my first day at work, but I have yet to do any. Instead I was told that I would be taking a physical. After securing a company driver, Mr. Tan - who, like many Chinese, does not drive - and I went to large clinic/hospital where I discovered that the concept of medical privacy is an abstract concept. Mr. Tan was needed, of course, to shepherd me from station to station but also took it upon himself to avidly monitor the results as we went. One does not sit in an exam room, nude in a backwards hospital gown. One troops fully clothed from line to line, room to room where one sometimes gives blood, sometimes is examined for among other things ear wax and color blindness. (I have known all my life that I am red/green color blind and what that has to do with my overall health, I still do not know. Mr. Tan was fascinated with the analysis, though, and assured me that it was not a "serious" defect)
I was also given an instant X-ray by a machine that resembled something from a Balkan sci-fi movie circa 1966. I wondered how many extra rads I received, though the machine spit out a card saying that I had "No abnormalities in my chest and lungs."
It was revealed that I have slightly elevated blood pressure and slightly swollen ankles. Mr. Tan and the doctors conferred and the diagnosis was to take the afternoon off. They blamed both conditions on my recent long flight and the stress of being in a new environment. But tonight (it's Monday afternoon as I write this) I have to sign a contract on my stunning flat, presuming the fridge, microwave and hot water heaters problems have been corrected. If not, my blood pressure may skyrocket.
I did run into another westerner here who teaches English and asked me what my job was. I told him. He laughed and said cryptically. "Oh, they finally found someone to take THAT job." I didn't want to know the details and didn't press him for details.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Strange days, indeed, mama. It's Sunday a.m. as I write this. Just dined in the "Western Hawaiian Style Restaurant" on the 42nd floor of this high rise newspaper cum hotel. The sign announcing that it is a Western Hawaiian Style Restaurant sits on an oversized white foam carriage, bringing more an American dinner theater production of "Oklahoma" to mind than anything Hawaiian.
I chose the Chinese buffet breakfast and leisurely consumed fried goldfish (not the crackers), sticky rice balls with mushrooms and onions wrapped in a leaf, bacon, rice noodles and warm Tang and coffee. Don't know what today will bring yet, but yesterday had some surprises.
I went with Mr. Tan to what will presumably become my new "flat" while I am here. It's a 5-10 minute walk from the newspaper and in a neighborhood that includes a small corner store (much like the Chicken Store from my teaching stint, but sadly lacking a chickent), two supermarkets, a 7-Eleven, many restaurants of all calibers and - directly across from the apt. is a complex that contains a tea house and a massage parlor.
"As you see, all your needs can be met," Mr. Tan said, leering just a little as he pointed out the massage parlor.
The apartment itself was something of a let down. I was reminded of friends who've struggled to find decent housing in NYC. The hot water heater, microwave and fridge were not working. No western style toilet. I was assured by Mr. Tan and the real estate agent and apartment manager (mostly in Chinese) that all these problems would be remedied. It was pointed out several times that the apartment is a lucky number. It's on the 17th floor. (1+7=8, eight being a "lucky number") and is apartment #44 (similarly, 8). It also is the only one with a door decorated with a cartoon character of a red and gold and blue cartoon horse.
It's basically one living room with the bedroom in the center. A small kitchen contains a two burner gas rings for a stove and exhaust and gas pipes that go out the windows, making it impossible to fully close the kitchen windows.
The bedroom is a fully visible self contained "room" between the living room and kitchen. surrounded by plexiglass, giving the appearance of some kind
sex club exhibition room. It has AC (working, mercifully) while the rest of the room doesn't. THere is one couch, a glass coffee table and cable TV (also working, but largely useless at the moment for my needs).
As Mr. Tan, the real estate agent and the mgr. babbled about my complaints concerning the faults of the place, and Mr. Tan went on at length stressing the advantages of location, location, location as well as the lucky numbers and the problems in finding anything else on short notice, I looked out the window at the bustling urban vista below and the sky scrapers on the horizon and the tea house and massage parlor across the street and I thought of Jack Nicholson in "Chinatown."
"Forget it, Jake. This is Chinatown."
Indeed. The whole country is Chinatown. Just roll with it.
I start work Monday a.m. and will presumably move in Monday evening to warm water, a working fridge and microwave.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Well, I'm back. Still hot and humid here. Am staying in a hotel that is also in the same high rise as the paper I'll be working at. The old Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal or the Rocky Mtn. News were never like this. There's also a first class restaurant serving traditional Chinese food in the same complex. The chickens still come with heads attached and the fish are similarly whole. Was met at the HK airport by a colleague, a genial fellow named Mr. Tan who, at times seemed as confused on how to get from Hong Kong to Shenzhen as I might've been.
It worked out though it's the third time I've gone across the borders and each time has been completely different. I might figure it out for myself sometime. This time took about an hour and a half and involved two metro systems and a surly taxi driver. Other times were about 50 minutes and involved buses or vans. I'm here under false pretenses, too. Though I've been hired to work for a year, communication problems with the paper made it too late to get a proper working visa so I'm officially in China as a tourist for 60 days. I'm trusting graft and connections on the part of the paper to straighten things out before I become an American illegal alien.
Not much to report yet. I'm severely jet lagged and running on fumes and still have to go view the "flat" that the paper has picked out for me. Am posting from the hotel PC.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

I'll be starting this blog again fairly soon. Have scored a year-long gig beginning Sept. 15 with an English language paper in Shenzhen called the Sehzhen Daily for a year long contract as a copy editor. Much prep has to be done before I leave (my apartment looks like wolverines and pigs have been rutting in it for years... , not to mention the mail and bill fwding details, etc. Stay tuned for future developments and adventures, good, bad and ugly.

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